Jan Kaplický

Today in Mailbox: Prague Writers' Festival, Czech and British journalism, listeners' mothly quiz. Listeners quoted: Mohamed Elsayed Abd Elraheim, Colin Law, Roger Tidy, Mary Lou Krenek, Jayanta Chakrabarty, Charles Konecny, Zara Modu, Ian Morrison, Paul Peacock.

Hamdi El-Gazzar
Hello and welcome to Mailbox. Thank you very much for all your feedback, including reception reports and of course, you quiz answers. Before we get to those, here are some of your recent e-mails.

Mohamed Elsayed Abd Elraheim from Egypt responded to Radio Prague’s coverage of this year’s Prague Writers' Festival:

“Thank you for the interview and dialogue with the Egyptian novelist Hamdi El-Gazzar who participated in the Prague Writers' Festival.”

Colin Law from New Zealand alerted us to an amusing typo he spotted in our e-mail news bulletin:

“Thanks for the laugh when I read the Radio Prague news this morning! So what is the age when a driver should give up driving and shooting?”

According to the news story, police in Prague arrested “a 256-year-old driver who had tried to ram their car off the road”. Of course, he was ten times younger and we apologize for the typo.

Roger Tidy from London responds to this week’s One on One:

Jindřich Šídlo,  photo: Hospodářské noviny/Martin Svozílek
“I enjoyed listening to your interview with Jindřich Šídlo. I thought, however, that he was a little too complimentary about British journalism, which he thought was superior to the Czech product. His basis for saying this was his one month's experience at ’The Times’ in London. ‘The Times’ is indeed a good paper, but as recent events concerning phone hacking by certain other British papers have shown, there is much that is rotten in British journalism, and in this respect it is hardly a good model.”

Thank you for your comments and now onto our monthly quiz:

Mary Lou Krenek from Texas sent us this answer:

“Our mystery person for May is Jan Kaplický (April 18, 1937 to January 14, 2009). He was a world-renowned Czech architect who lived and worked a significant part of his life in England. He was one of the most radical architects on the planet in the last forty years.

“Kaplický created his innovative designs in his office known as Future Systems. He is best known for the futuristic Selfridges Building in Birmingham, England and the Media Centre at Lords Cricket Ground in London. Kaplický's commitment to radical futuristic design meant that his buildings were too ahead of their time. It is indeed an accomplishment to get his designs accepted and built among the most historical treasured architectural designs in England. Despite his radical, futuristic approach to Architecture, he won the Sterling Prize in 1999, the World Architecture Awards in 2001 and the Royal Institute of British Architects Award for Architecture in 2004.

The design of the Czech National Library building in Prague
“Prior to his death, he fought hard to win support for what he hoped would be the ‘grand finale’ to his career. Kaplický won the design competition of the new Czech National Library in his home country. The design of the building resembled a green and purple blob and nicknamed by the locals as ‘the Octopus.’ This design did not go over too well with Czech conservatives who felt it would not fit in to the historical panorama of Prague. His design was eventually dropped after all of the criticism, but Kaplický remained hopeful that the building would be built through funds from a private foundation. A former director of the Library, Vlastimil Ježek, regarded Kaplický ‘a protagonist of Czech culture who had been crushed by Czech narrow-mindedness.’ The Czechs are very proud of their historical architecture and any modern structure erected often looks out of place among the historical treasures. He did succeed in getting his design for the Congress and Concert Hall Centre in ČeskéBudějovice approved. If funding is obtained, there will, after all, be a Kaplický building in the Czech Republic.”

Jayanta Chakrabarty writes from India:

“Another of the Czech Republic's contributions to the world – this time in the form of renowned architect, Jan Kaplický. His innovative design office, the Future Systems amazed the world for its unique fusion of organic design with high tech futurism. His name will forever be enshrined in such remarkable projects like Birmingham's futuristic Selfridges Building and the Media Centre at Lords which brought him laurels in the form of the Stirling Prize and the RIBA Award. He also won the international architecture competition for Prague's new National Library building but his dream of putting his footprint in his country of birth never materialised during his lifetime.”

Colin Law from New Zealand wrote:

“Jan’s parents were Josef, a painter, architect and graphic designer, and Jiřina who was an artist, particularly skilled in illustrations for botanical books. After leaving school, Jan studied at the Prague College of Applied Arts, Architecture and Design and received a Diploma in Architecture in 1962. He then worked in private practice until 1968 when the Soviet invasion after the Prague Spring persuaded him to move to London where a new phase of his life began. Jan met Eva Jiřičná, another architect from Prague. His girl-friend became his partner and they worked together for several years.

“In 1979 Kaplický and colleague David Nixon formed Future Systems architectural studio. After Nixon went to USA, another architect, Amanda Levete, joined Future Systems as a partner in 1989. Jan married Amanda in 1991 and in 1995 they had a son, Josef, named after Jan’s father. Amanda and Jan were divorced in 2006, but continued their professional relationship for another two years.

“Among the designs which enhanced Kaplický’s reputation were the Media Centre at Lord's Cricket Ground in London and Selfridges Building in Birmingham. In 1999 the Media Centre project won the prestigious Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Stirling Prize and it won the 2001 World Architecture Awards.

“Jan Kaplický involved himself in the education of architects. He taught at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in England, at the School of Architecture in Bordeaux and at the Design Workshop of the Technische Universität Berlin.

“In 2007 Jan married Eliška Fuchsová, a film producer and in 2006–2007, Jan worked on a project for the new building of the National Library of the Czech Republic in Prague. He won the international architectural competition. However, construction was blocked by politicians and the Director of the National Library, who was a supporter of the Kaplický design, was removed from his position. Kaplický refused to accept the prestigious prize for contribution to Decorative Art since the prize came from the Ministry of Culture the office that had that blocked him from building his winning design. It was reported that Kaplický told the Culture Minister: ‘I consider the prize from the office that inhibits me to fulfil, to be unacceptable.' He was the first artist to refuse this major state prize.

“Kaplický’s National Library project was considered to be one of the most original designs. It was indeed unusual and some compared it to a purple octopus. Details of the project are found on the internet by searching for ‘Prague National Library’ or ‘The Prague Blob’ using its colloquial name.

"On 14 January 2009, hours after the birth of his daughter Johanka, Jan Kaplický collapsed in Prague with heart failure and could not be revived by emergency services. Resuscitation was attempted by passers-by and emergencies services, but in vain.”

The Media Centre at Lords Cricket Ground in London
Charles Konecny from Ohio wrote:

“It may be that Kaplický was way ahead of his time but he was an innovative and brilliant architect whose buildings were designed with continual angles, slopes, and curves. I doubt that he owned a T-square or straight-edge, but he must have been darn good in geometry. Of course his designs were controversial, with some calling his Selfridges store in the Bull Ring, a giant iceberg and some in Prague were ready to step in front of the bulldozers to keep the Library ‘blob’ from being built. I understand there is a miniature version of the ‘blob’ built as a bus stop in Brno. So now Kaplický is gone (I wonder what his tombstone looks like), his Future Systems Company is gone, and probably his Library building is gone... or is it.”

This is what Zara Modu from Nigeria sent us:

“Jan Kaplický was a world renowned Czech architect who spent a significant part of his life in the United Kingdom. He was the leading architect behind the innovative design office, he was best known for the futuristic Selfridges building in Burmingham, in February 2007 he won the international architectural competition for the new building of National Library of the Czech Republic in Prague, a project that was subsequently cancelled.”

Ian Morrison from China adds:

“His designs were certainly very innovative. A layman such as myself with little knowledge of architecture could even describe them as ‘space age’ or ‘science fiction’, impressive works from a great man.”

Paul Peacock from Australia sent us this:

Jan Kaplický
“Born in Prague in 1937 his formative years were spent there until 1968 when he moved to London with only $US100 in his pocket. He worked in various establishments there over the years and set up his own architectural think tank called Future Systems developing an architectural style combining organic forms and a high tech futurism. He married in 1991 to Amanada Levete who had joined Future Systems as a partner but their marriage ended in divorce in 2006, three years before he died. He was in Prague when he collapsed in a street of heart failure.”

Thank you very much for all your answers. This time our little prize goes to Zara Modu from Nigeria. Our congratulations and here is a new question for the month of June.

This month we would like to know the name of the Austrian mathematician and physicist born in 1803 who spent a significant part of his career lecturing at the Prague Polytechnic.

Please send your answers as usual to by the end of the month along with your questions, comments and reception reports. We are looking forward to all your feedback. Until next time, stay tuned and take care.